Thoughts on “Twin Peaks: The Return”

So, after watching the original “Twin Peaks”, I looked on my streaming service and noted that it had the continuation of it, alternatively called “The Return” or “Season 3” or, on my service, “Twin Peaks”. Since it was only 18 episodes, I decided that it would be worth watching it to see how it might wrap up the mysteries from the first series and to see just how well it worked on its own. And … I was disappointed. I’m going to continue below the fold because this is pretty recent, but I don’t really think I’ll watch it again, and the reason is that I find it to be self-indulgent in a way that loses what made the original series interesting.

“The Return” continues from the end of the second season of “Twin Peaks”. Or, rather, it continues on from the end of the series — even using footage from it — and then justifies a 25 year time skip based on a comment from Laura Palmer saying precisely that. So, as you might expect there’d be a lot of changes in the world and in Twin Peaks itself because of this. People who liked the original series are probably going to be most interested in seeing those changes and what happened to those characters. On the other hand, people who didn’t watch the original series are going to be pretty much lost from the beginning since a lot of the events from the start of the series only make sense — as much as anything Lynch does makes sense, I guess — if you know what the first series was about. And since that was a Lynch-run show, the basic facts about Laura Palmer aren’t what you need to know to understand what’s going on. Thus, given its starting point, the show was probably going to have an issue explaining itself to new viewers and existing viewers were going to be interested in catching up with the old characters more than — or at least alongside — any new developments the show might create to interest new viewers.

And the show, amazingly, manages to end up being one that won’t really satisfy either audience.

The show ends up with, well, multiple plot lines as per usual, but three in particular get a lot of screen time and are the ones that I consider at least potentially self-indulgent. The first takes on Gordon, Albert and a new FBI agent and follows them as they investigate Cooper and the various things going on around the Twin Peaks storyline. This storyline gives Gordon, the Chief, a much bigger role than he had in the original Twin Peaks, as he’s pretty much the central character here. Gordon, it should be noted, is played by David Lynch himself. Now, Lynch does a good job with the role, but in the original Gordon was a minor character with a rather annoying character tic that was interesting in small doses there but would be really annoying if done all the time. The show is smart enough to tone it down and add some new jokes — he seems to have gotten a better hearing aid in the past 25 years — and so it doesn’t become annoying, but the sudden expansion of the precise role that Lynch himself plays was always going to raise some flags that the storyline was primarily self-indulgent. Only adding to this is the fact that the other two agents get much, much less play than Gordon does, despite Albert having a larger role in the original series and the new agent, Tammy Preston, being the one that would be more interesting to learn about since she was new and didn’t have the baggage of the original series, but also was one that returning fans wouldn’t know much about. This storyline gets a lot of screen time and very prominently features Lynch’s character.

The next one is the Dougie Jones plotline. This features MacLachlan as when Agent Cooper finally gets out of the Black Lodge, instead of taking the place of his doppleganger he ends up taking the place of a creation that the doppleganger created to avoid being drawn back into the Black Lodge when the time for his return had come. Cooper, here, is suffering from a strong mental degradation and so ends up essentially being an idiot savant, as he picks up some ability to see things like who is lying and important things in reports, but otherwise is mostly unresponsive and incapable of taking care of himself. This plotline runs for most of the series, leaving us effectively without Agent Cooper as we knew him for the entire original series. It’s also segmented off into its own little plot in Las Vegas, with no connection to any of the other plots or to Twin Peaks itself (except for a brief things with his old hotel key). It’s also annoying, at least to me, because while the idiot savant aspects were somewhat interesting at first, it wears thin and Cooper is completely incapable of acting in any kind of normal way and is clearly incapable of taking care of himself. And yet, while there were some handwaves at this, Dougie Jones was not like that as far as we can tell and so he should have been taken to a mental hospital, not left running around doing things with only a “Let’s make an appointment to see the doctor” line acknowledging how weird that was. If this had been a minor subplot, it could have been ignored, but it takes up a lot of time and as Cooper doesn’t do much himself it gives us lots of time to wonder about these things.

The final one is the doppleganger himself, who is a major crime lord and has a lot of scenes where he does crime-lord-like things, including facing assassination — and surviving, because he can’t be, at least, easily killed — and taking vengeance. The main issue with this plot is that it’s mostly disconnected from the original series. There are some links to the FBI plot, but for the most part all we’re doing is following the Evil Cooper as he does Evil Things. We probably shouldn’t be cheering for him, and he’s not that interesting as an evil character, especially since the plotline keeps him from doing evil things to characters that we actually know and like, for the most part.

I’m not sure if the last two count as self-indulgent, but it’s easy to imagine that MacLachlan enjoyed the more challenging roles than the straightlaced Agent Cooper. And the acting is indeed credible, but the plotlines just don’t actually seem to add much to the overall picture, but get a lot of the screentime. Any time you have things that get more time on-screen than their impact on the plot seems to justify, I think a charge of “self-indulgent” has to be considered.

Anyway, here are the problems with the main focus being on these three storylines: none of them are in Twin Peaks or involve any of the most prominent characters from the original series. You can argue that two of them involve Cooper — or a form of him — but none of them have the personality of Cooper nor are an evolution of the character across the intervening years. Gordon and Albert were minor characters in the first series, and Tammy is a new character. The characters that the two Cooper incarnations interact with are new characters. These new characters and new settings dominate the bulk of the series, and fans who liked the original are going to be disappointed that the series isn’t showing that much of what is happening back in Twin Peaks and those characters (although they do get some subplots and scenes, which I’ll talk more about later). But those plots require an understanding of the original series to really get, and aren’t interesting enough on their own without being in the context of the overall plot, especially since they often drag. So, as I said earlier, those who liked the original series are going to be disappointed about not seeing more of Twin Peaks, and new viewers will be confused by the plot points that rely on understanding that and likely won’t find the new plots interesting enough on their own to want to merely follow them. So neither expected audience is going to be pleased by the direction the series took.

I think that this could have been solved pretty easily by one simple change: instead of Cooper being physically swapped with Dougie Jones, have him come out in Twin Peaks instead. You could give him the mental damage that he needs to recover from, but this would allow for a number of things. First, it would set one main storyline in Twin Peaks, allowing people who liked the original series that sense of familiarity and to see what is happening in Twin Peaks itself. Second, it would allow for the exposition required to get new viewers up to speed, as the people in Twin Peaks explain the backstory in an attempt to snap Cooper out of his fugue. And it would also allow for the subplots in Twin Peaks to get more time and so be better explained and hinted at.

The big one here is Audrey’s, as she gets a few scenes but there’s nothing all that strange about them until the end where we find out that she’s in an insane asylum and has, presumably, been merely hallucinating all of the things that have happened in the town to her, including interactions with her husband. But this is never really established and so comes out of nowhere, and as it happens right at the end the emotional impact is muted as well. If Cooper had come out in Twin Peaks, however, observant fans of the original series could easily wonder why, if they’re taking Cooper around to people in the hopes of springing him from his fugue why wouldn’t they take him to see Audrey, who they know he was close to? Then they could add more scenes — which were desperately needed — where Audrey’s view of Twin Peaks and what’s happening are wrong. For example, they could have her go to the Double R and see Norma and Ed acting all lovey-dovey towards each other … while in other scenes they are dating other people. Or she could come back to her house claiming to have gone to the Roadhouse to look for her son … while we had just seen a scene there and she wasn’t in the crowd. These things if noticed would have raised the mystery and once we see the end state would have made sense, and if not noticed would be interesting points on a rewatch. And they also could have revealed it by having them finally take Cooper to see Audrey, which then could have eliminated the ambiguity around that final scene, as it could be easily interpreted as her being lost in a fantasy world but where she returns to reality on hearing Cooper’s voice, making a more hopeful scene and a more meaningful subplot for such an important character.

Now, doing this would have lost the Dougie Jones subplot, and there were some good things about it. The final scene where a reborn Dougie returns to his family really did work, and the link to the mobsters with the dream and the cherry pie is a wonderful scene that hits the exact sort of oddities and weirdness that made the show interesting and was an interesting callback to the original series. These couldn’t really be done properly with my proposed change. But I think that the improvements from the change would have more than made up for it.

The show itself often seems to try for oddities and plotlines, again, without properly setting them up. One big example of this is the guy with the exceptionally powerful hand. He only really shows up at one point with James Hurley to save him from an attack by a jealous husband — although that in itself is strange as no one, even the bouncers, help him despite him being someone who plays at the bar — which gets them locked up in jail which gets them released when the doppleganger attacks the jail so that he can then pummel some sort of strange creature to death with his special hand. Not only do all of these coincidences seem contrived — there is no reason for the other scenes except to get them there — the scene itself is drawn out and focuses on a character that we, again, don’t care much about. If the main point was him fulfilling his destiny as implied, then having him simply show up for a completely unrelated reason would have worked just as well, and would be completely in line with how the show normally works. I’d actually say that a lot of the issues with the show are because the show doesn’t set-up things sufficiently and then tries to pay them off. It doesn’t work.

I also need to complain about one thing they did as a callback to the original series. We finally get to meet Diane, the person that Cooper was talking to on his tape recorder the entire original series! And it turns out that she’s a thoroughly unpleasant character who is thus thoroughly disappointing and uninteresting. There are claims that there are reasons for that — she had an unpleasant time with the doppleganger — but it’s all moot anyway as it turns out that … it’s not really Diane, but a doppelganger of her. The real Agent Cooper frees the real Diane … and then they share a romantic kiss that neither of them finds in any way surprising or a revelation or some kind of new thing, implying — along with the other hints in the doppelganger plotline — that they had a romantic relationship. But this Cooper is the Cooper who experienced nothing outside the world from the end of the original series. If they had a romantic relationship that they could be somewhat picking back up on after all these years, then why was Cooper so smitten with Audrey, and then considered Annie his true love? There is no reason to have any kind of romantic link here and all this entire plotline does is make an interesting revelation — meet Diane! — confusing and annoying.

The show gets better at the end, as it returns to Twin Peaks and back to those characters and storylines. But that’s only in something like the last four episodes or so, out of eighteen. That’s a bit too late to finally start making the show enjoyable, but the fact that it got more interesting when they came back to Twin Peaks says something about what’s really interesting in this universe.

I didn’t care much for “The Return”. It doesn’t really add much to the mythos — except for some explanations from the FBI subplot — and doesn’t tell us enough about what happened in Twin Peaks after the original series. There are supposedly things that Lynch said you have to read or watch before this series for it to make sense, but few were going to do it and as I’m working my way through the movies and books I don’t think it would matter that much. The problem with the series isn’t in what it doesn’t tell you — at least to someone familiar with the original series — but in what it focuses on. It focuses on plots that smell the most self-indulgent while ignoring the ones that the fans might actually like. I won’t watch this again unless I get really invested in just watching everything again, but I think the original series is better if you leave it out.

But, as stated, I have the movies and the books to get through and talk about, so this isn’t the last you’ll from me about Twin Peaks.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on “Twin Peaks: The Return””

  1. Tom Says:

    Haha. I did a Ctrl+F on how many times you wrote ‘self-indulgent’. Turned out to be six. I think the thing is: the ‘self-indulgence’ is at least part of what Lynch’s fans love about him and his work. He knows very well that you’re going to want to see the standard things you’d see in the return of every soap ever, from Dallas to Dynasty onwards. Every suggestion you’re making on how to commercialize it to make it more palatable to past and new fans would be one he’d reject.

    When it came out, there were a lot of theories on the show. One of my favorites was the ‘Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima’ scene. As I recall, in the fictional backstory to Twin Peaks there was some experimental nuclear testing having to do with the town. (Can’t remember the details..) it turns out that intriguingly ‘Mike’ and ‘Bob’ might be a reference to two nuclear tests done by the United States. See below:

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Every suggestion you’re making on how to commercialize it to make it more palatable to past and new fans would be one he’d reject.

      Well, I consider my suggestions more of a “Here’s how I think you can keep the artistic things you’re trying for while keeping it open to actual audiences who might want to consume it”. Surely even Lynch wants people, in general, to enjoy his work. He just doesn’t want to have to compromise too much on his artistic vision to do so.

      Take my example from my discussions of the first season around Laura Palmer’s murder. He didn’t want to ever solve the murder. The problem with that was that by making it such an important theme of the series, he was going to have to do SOMETHING with it, or else it would always overshadow everything else he wanted to do. Thus my suggestion of taking the theme he had already established of Laura’s items corrupting her friends and making that a key part of the villainous plot. The theme was already there and interesting, it would allow a natural transition from the Laura Palmer murder to the new theme, and it would have fit nicely in with the Black Lodge idea. So, in my opinion, Lynch made the Laura Palmer murder too important to ignore, and I think this would have been a better way to move on from it than what happened. That’s also behind my comments on the Windom Earle plot. The plot was already there and worked for what he wanted to use it for. He just needed to ramp it up faster to avoid the dragging time between the end of the Laura Palmer murder and the ramp up of the new plot.

      In the new series, my suggestion is aimed far more at the fact that continuing the series twenty years later was going to leave him with two main audiences: those who had watched the original series — either when it first came out or through streaming services/DVDs — or people who had never watched it but thought the idea was interesting. The series relied too much on what had happened before for new viewers, but sidelined the Twin Peaks characters too much for returning viewers. Thus, my suggestion of making a minor change — moving the Dougie Jones subplot to Twin Peaks — to allow for exposition for new viewers while triggering the nostalgia of the returning viewers, while also leaving room to better develop some of the plotlines that he himself deliberately included in the show (like Audrey’s).

      Lynch may like to subvert expectations, but subverting expectations isn’t good in and of itself. My goal here was to have him subvert expectations but not in a way that would lose the intended audience.

      As I recall, in the fictional backstory to Twin Peaks there was some experimental nuclear testing having to do with the town. (Can’t remember the details..)

      Surprisingly, I just read the books that give the backstory and don’t remember that in that much detail. UFOs were the big thing in them, although Preston posits that some of the events might have been disposal of nuclear waste.

  2. Thoughts on “Fire Walk With Me” and “The Missing Pieces” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] “Fire Walk With Me” and “The Missing Pieces”. To continue on from my point last time about being self-indulgent, creating an hour and a halfish separate movie out of cut scenes strung together certainly raises […]

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